ON April 1, 2022, a medical laboratory technician based in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Kehinde Oluwakemi, got an alert beep on her phone. When she checked, it was a credit alert SMS from Guaranteed Trust Bank (GTBank).
Oluwakemi heaved a sigh of relief. The hospital she works with had just paid her monthly salary. Her mind counted the number of people she was owing, whom she had promised to pay, and the monthly expenses she would incur on herself and her child.
Oluwakemi would get another alert beep on her phone five minutes later, but the news this time was unpleasant when she checked.
A transaction had happened in her GTBank account without her approval and N102,800 was transferred from the savings account to another GTBank account owned by Ibukun Ademola.
Oluwakemi, who had never met Ibukun, called the customer care service of GTBank to complain, but she could only reach its automated service.
The lady, baring her frustration on Twitter, lamented that the bank also charged her N6.85 when she used the USSD codes to restrict her account, without a response from its customer care agent.
” [I] I am so devastated right now. How do I survive with a child? How do I attend to people I owe who I have promised I would pay by month-end. How do I survive this,” she tweeted.
Her tweet has gathered over 6,000 reactions.
Oluwakemi is one of some other GTBank’s customers who have experienced unauthorised deductions from their accounts, especially this weekend.
Unusual ‘SMS Debit Alert’ Claims
Some GTBank customers have been notified of deductions from their accounts for charges as far back as 2020 and 2021.
A Twitter user, @aladeayoo, said his wife’s GTBank account, on April 2, 2022, received eight debit alert charges tagged, ‘SMS Debit Alert’ charges, which cost a total of N994 for transactions said to have occurred in September 2019.
— bengayo⚪ (@aladeayoo) April 2, 2022
Another customer, who identified as @_christiie_ on Twitter, said she got 12 debit alerts for charges supposedly incurred from January 2018 to January 2019. The account itself, she said, had been frozen since October 2021.
She complained that the charges for SMS alerts did not correspond with the charges on transactions with the bank.
Dear @gtbank I really need explanations as to how I’m getting over 10 debit alerts tagged “sms alert charge” from Jan 2018-Jan 2019 when we’re in April 2022 on an account you’ve frozen with my money since Oct 2021. This is the height of insanity fr!!!!! I haven’t had access to…
— THE ISY OF ISYDULCE (@_christiie_) April 2, 2022
At N4 per alert, GTBank rakes in millions of naira in SMS alerts as its millions of customers are subscribed to the service to monitor cash transfers, as well as debit and credit transactions.
According to a directive from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the fee for SMS mandatory alerts to be charged by banks is N4 and no more.
If the alleged deductions were a breach of the CBN guideline, GTBank might be culpable to pay a fine of N2 million per deduction, according to the stipulated sanctions for non-compliant banks.
GTBank charges a convenience fee when customers use its USSD codes to carry out financial transactions.
The bank earned N2.13 billion in 2019 for charges on its use by customers. This indicated a 34 per cent increase, compared to its 2018 earnings of N1.58 billion made by the company.
It did not reveal its USSD revenue for 2020, though it disclosed that the total amount accrued was N3.89 billion.
The ICIR reached out to GTBank’s corporate office via email to comment on the alleged deductions its customers experienced between April 1 and April 3, but no response was received at the time of filing this report.
Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.